Like nursing homes, jails and prisons in Ohio have become a petri dish for spreading the coronavirus... with hundreds and sometimes thousands of overcrowded inmates living in tight quarters. In April, the state prison, Marion Correctional Institution, north of Columbus ranked as the largest recorded coronavirus outbreak of any U.S. institution in the country, with more than 2,000 prisoners, or about 80% of the population, having contracted the virus. One inmate described the virus spread on Facebook like a game of "sick hot potato."
To date, Ohio's prisons have had 5,132 positive cases of COVID-19 and 77 confirmed deaths, including 5 staff deaths. Ohio also contains federal prisons run by the federal government. The prison in Elkton, Ohio holds about 2,300 men. To date, there have been nearly 1,000 positive cases of COVID-19 among inmates.
There have been many efforts to depopulate jails and prisons since the pandemic hit, many of which have been overcrowded since long before March. Cuyahoga County prosecutors, judges and other officials along with MetroHealth worked to reduce the county jail's population in mid-March from over 2,000 to just under 1,000, to limit the spread of the disease. The current population is closer to 1,200 today. Last month, county officials and MetroHealth said it had reduced the number of cases from a peak of 61 in May to zero. But we've confirmed with Metrohealth that they now have 8 new positive cases, due in part to new inmates entering the system.
This hour, we're going to talk about how the pandemic has fared for individuals behind bars, and whether things like increased testing and depopulation efforts have made bad situations any better.
And, tonight at 6 pm, a state-wide mask mandate goes into effect for any Ohioan out in public, as ordered by Governor Mike DeWine yesterday.
The governor had originally proposed a statewide mask mandate back in April but reversed course the next day. The mandate comes at a time when the number of cases has risen back to April-levels. Yesterday the state department of health reported 1,527 new infections and 16 deaths. A travel advisory was also issued for anyone coming to Ohio from a state where coronavirus cases are on the rise.
We're going to discuss mask enforcement. After the state mask order for seven counties went into effect earlier this month, the Sheriff of Butler County took issue with enforcing the mandate on Facebook live. He said, "I am not the mask police."
Recently, Cuyahoga County set up a mask hotline for people to report whether individuals and businesses were complying with the order. Last week, the County said it had received more than 2,500 complaints through the hotline. And this Monday, said it has mailed 766 letters to businesses that were reported. County Executive Armond Budish has stated that if people or businesses commit "repeated" violations, the county sheriff's office will step in. But it begs the question the Sheriff in Butler County raised-- is it law enforcement's job to be the "mask police?"
Municipalities, like Cleveland, also have enforcement power and the city has also set up a hotline for complaints.
Alex Pellom, Director, Cuyahoga County Department of Public Safety and Justice Service
Claire Chevrier, Policy Counsel, ACLU of Ohio
Keri Blakinger, Staff Writer, The Marshall Project
Namwali Serpell, Author, The Old Drift & Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Winner for Fiction